By ADAM SCHRECK, Associated Press
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Gulf carrier Etihad Airways said Tuesday its sales jumped 28 percent to $989 million in the first quarter of the year as it pushed ahead with its rapid expansion.
The increased revenue kept the Abu Dhabi-based carrier in the black after it reported its first annual profit last year, CEO James Hogan said. Although he declined to provide quarterly earnings figures, he said Etihad expects to beat last year's profit of $14 million despite a spike in fuel prices.
Etihad remains interested in pursuing further acquisitions even as it digests recent big stakes it took in money-losing Air Berlin and Air Seychelles, Hogan said. But he made clear any that the carrier is not open to buying up interests in struggling competitors just because they need the cash.
"You don't want to step in someone else's minefield," he told reporters at the company's headquarters near the Abu Dhabi airport. "My job is to make sure Etihad works. That's my first priority."
Hogan said there are no merger talks going on with Aer Lingus, the Irish carrier it has been linked to in the past, and he offered no commitments about other potential tie-ups.
A 26 percent increase in capacity helped fuel Etihad's sales growth, though airline figures show the carrier is also filling more seats on its flights. It posted a seat factor, which measures how many paying passengers fill the plane, of 76.5 percent, up 3.8 percentage points from the same quarter last year.
Etihad and its regional rivals, Emirates and Qatar Airways, are increasingly reshaping the business of long-haul international air travel by routing passengers through their Gulf hubs.
The oil-rich Abu Dhabi government set up Etihad in 2003, and remains its sole owner. It expects to have 71 mostly wide-body planes in its fleet by the end of the year and has orders for about 100 more.
Etihad recently began flying to Shanghai, Nairobi, Kenya, and Tripoli, Libya. It expects to add its first South American destination next year, Hogan said.
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